BY BLESSED MHLANGA/TAPIWA ZIVIRA
Government business briefly ground to a halt yesterday after several top officials and Cabinet ministers escorted Acting President Constantino Chiwenga to receive for the second time the Boeing 777-200ER aeroplane bought from Malaysia in 2016.
The plane, which was once received by the late former President Robert Mugabe and flown into the country by his son-in-law Simba Chikore, was flown back to Harare by a Malaysian captain and crew.
Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza confirmed that the plane was part of the two bought under Mugabe, and were registered under Zimbabwe Airways at that time, but will now be operated by Air Zimbabwe.
“The plane is one of the two acquired by government from Malaysia in 2016. The other one is expected in the country soon as it is still undergoing refurbishment … as part of resuscitation of Air Zimbabwe. This plane will help us rebuild the airliner and take on international routes,” he said.
The Boeing 777-200ER is suitable for long distances and could see Zimbabwe resume flights to China and the United Kingdom once the plane takes to the skies.
Receiving the repainted Boeing 777-200ER, Chiwenga said it would boost tourism and ensure the revival of Air Zimbabwe, currently operating with one aircraft.
“We take this as a symbol of the government’s commitment to the revival of State enterprises and parastatals. As you may all recall, State enterprises and parastatals used to contribute around 40% of our country’s gross domestic product,” he said.
“Unfortunately, most, if not all of these public entities, have suffered from a host of challenges, including the economic decline caused by illegal sanctions imposed upon us by the determined and unashamed perpetrators of underdevelopment in third world countries.”
Countless reports from the Auditor-General have indicated rampant corruption, abuse of authority and looting as the major reasons of the collapse of parastatals with government taking little or no action to correct these.
The plane, which was marked RGM, had been repainted and was sporting a new white look, carried a delegation from the Transport ministry on a 10-hour flight with the “new” baby.
The ceremony was not without its strange moments as Chiwenga could not drink champagne poured for him to conduct a toast by the Air Zimbabwe team.
Instead, Chiwenga poured the champagne on the floor as if to appease the ancestors, and later seeped on some juice that was served by his entourage, while Matiza and Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa drank the champagne.
The “new” plane
According to aviation websites, PlaneSpoters.net and Airfleets.net, the Boeing 777 plane, code number Z-RGM was first delivered to Malaysian Airways on November 23, 2004, making it 15 years old.
The aircraft is part of the Malaysia Airways fleet that was grounded in 2015 following the disappearance of the yet-to-be-found Flight MH370.
MH730 disappeared on March 8, 2014 without trace while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport.
The ageing plane was then handed over to Zimbabwe in April 2018 through the controversial Zimbabwe Airways deal, which involved Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore.
Before it could become operational, the plane was sent back to Malaysia only to return yesterday without the previous livery of Zimbabwe Airways.
Despite being 15 years old, the plane will become Air Zimbabwe’s youngest bird, with the only other operational plane, Chimanimani Z-WPF, a Boeing 767-200, clocking 29 years in
The rest of the Air Zimbabwe planes, which are not operational, are as old as 32 and 33 years.